ESSEX BOYS is the third project Jeff Pope has written as well as produced, the previous films being Fool's Gold (on which he collaborated with Terry Winsor) and Place of the Dead. Currently Head of Factual Drama for Granada Television, Jeff has also produced Open Fire and The One That Got Away.
He sees ESSEX BOYS as a logical continuation of his working partnership with Terry Winsor: "I started working with Terry in 1993 on Fool's Gold. I'd admired Party, Party and we just hit it off. I think it was a natural progression from Fool's Gold to ESSEX BOYS - I had the gangster idea in my mind even then. Possibly down ultimately to Sean playing in it, because that was such a good experience. The more I thought about it the more it seemed to work - it was fresh and cliche free, and had a great coherent style.
"Some of my favourite films include Once Upon a Time in America and The Godfather, Get Carter and The Long Good Friday, so the idea of a gangster picture really appealed.
"I think setting the movie in Essex really helped us. When I looked at some of the others since Long Good Friday I felt that there wasn't anything new about them. The sense of place just wasn't huge - they were all like production-line British gangsters. All the actors had London accents, but you didn't know where they lived, the places where they did the robbery, their local pubs - you didn't know where any of this stuff took place. If they travelled from one place to another you had no sense of geography. So they ended up like pastiches of gangster films, with nothing distinctive about them.
"In contrast, Essex has a real sense of identity. There's a thrusting, wannabe feel to it. It's an impatient sort of place that doesn't have a sense of history like London has. It only really came into its own in the 50's and 60's, and in many respects it's similar to Australia or America. Essex now has these huge American malls, with big cinema complexes and all the fast food outlets - and like the States, the car is really important. I thought it was a really interesting place to set a movie. Then of course there is Southend, which says everything with its neon signs - it could be Monte Carlo or Las Vegas or New York - and actually it's still Southend seafront! By day it's an English seaside resort, but by night there is this fantastic transformation with the neon, and you can see that it wants to be something else.
I think it would be a problem if people felt that ESSEX BOYS was a British film trying to be American - it would certainly turn me off. There is a big distinction. This is a movie about an area which is following in the footsteps of America.
"If you want to pinpoint the big difference between us and say, Lock, Stock... it is that whilst you sense that the people who made that film were inspired by America and Americana, in ESSEX BOYS it is the characters themselves who are inspired by America and Americana. Certainly Terry and I wanted to make a British film, albeit one that will travel.
"Being set in such a comparatively unknown location I don't think will hurt the movie internationally. I believe what cinema-goers want is an integrity, an honesty. If you take the example of Fargo: I had no real concept that that part of the US was so heavily influenced by Sweden. But because it was so faithfully done, it became interesting - it became a character. The same is true of The Full Monty, which was not a picture postcard view of Sheffield - in fact they take the piss out of it at the beginning, but then they stay true to place after that. If you get your location right, then it becomes a character and adds interest to the project.
"The way that Terry and I work is to borrow a lot from real-life. We approach a project journalistically - only becoming screenwriters once we have the raw materials. I think it's interesting that London never enters the film. It is entirely self-contained within Essex. To me The Long Good Friday painted a great picture of villainy on the cusp of the new era - it accurately predicted what would happen in Docklands, and Bob Hoskins' character was just at the vanguard of the old style families moving into new territory. And I think that here we are, the best part of 20 years later, and it's call come to fruition - that type of villain doesn't really exist anymore. They have moved out of London, not just to Essex but to Kent and Hertfordshire. They are the Essex Boys!"
Terry Winsor (Director & Co-Writer)
Jeff Pope (Producer & Co-Writer)
Pippa Cross (Executive Producer)
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